United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. HOWELL, CHIEF JUDGE
October 2004, Thomas Fields filed a motion under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 to set aside a series of convictions and the
attendant criminal sentence, all stemming from crimes Fields
committed as a leader of the “L-Street Crew.”
See generally Def.'s Mot. Vacate, ECF No. 398.
In 2006, that motion was denied by the judge then assigned to
Fields' case. See United States v. Fields, No.
98-cr-71 (TFH), 2006 WL 148739 (D.D.C. Jan. 18, 2006).
Thirteen years after that judgment, Fields has filed a new
motion, one styled as a “Motion to Reopen Judgment
Under Rule 60(b), ” asking the Court to revisit the
decade-old judgment denying his § 2255 motion. See
generally Def.'s Mot. Reopen J. (“Def.'s
Mot.”), ECF No. 465. Despite Fields' styling of his
motion, this motion is, in substance, a new motion under 28
U.S.C. § 2255. This Court, however, lacks jurisdiction
to entertain a successive § 2255 motion without prior
approval from the D.C. Circuit. Therefore, Fields' motion
is transferred to the D.C. Circuit, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1631, as the government requests.
currently is serving a life term, plus 105 years, following
convictions on 40 counts of kidnaping, rape, a narcotics
conspiracy, a RICO conspiracy, and multiple firearms
offenses. Judgment, ECF No. 369. On October 15, 2004, Fields
filed the first of several motions under 28 U.S.C. §
2255. See generally Def.'s Mot. Vacate. In it,
he brought three claims: (1) his sentence exceeded the
statutory maximum, Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Vacate at 4-18,
ECF No. 398; (2) newly discovered evidence warranted
dismissal, or a new trial, for the kidnapping and other
weapons charges, id. at 18-21; and (3) the attorneys
that prosecuted Fields violated the Due Process Clause by
suborning false testimony from one witness and by failing to
disclose exculpatory evidence obtained from a second source,
id. at 22-23. As to the false-testimony aspect of
the third claim, Fields contended that the government
solicited testimony from Yusef Simmons about Simmons'
work schedule which the government knew conflicted with
Simmons' employment records. In Fields' view, the
discrepancy made pieces of Simmons' testimony less
credible. Id. As to the failure-to-disclose aspect
of the third claim, Fields asserted that the government had
interviewed Ronald Sowells prior to Fields' trial and,
although Sowells did not testify at the trial, Fields
believed, based on Sowells' testimony in a separate
trial, that Sowells had divulged information suggesting that
Fields had a more limited role in the criminal conspiracy
than the government theorized. Id. at 23. Fields
argued that Sowells' information may have assisted Fields
at sentencing and thus needed to be disclosed. Id.
claim was denied. Fields' first claim relied on
Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), which
was issued after Fields' convictions became final. Fields
could not benefit from Blakely because the Supreme
Court's decision was not given retroactive effect.
Fields, 2006 WL 148739, at *1. Fields' second
claim was time barred under Federal Rule of Criminal
Procedure 33(b)(1). Id. at *2. Insofar as the third
claim asserted that the government sponsored false testimony,
the claim was denied for several reasons. First, Fields did
not establish that Simmons had testified falsely.
Id. Second, Fields did not establish that any
discrepancy between Simmons' testimony and documents
reflecting Simmons' work schedule was material.
Id. Third, nothing suggested that the government was
aware of any discrepancy. Id. Insofar as the third
claim contented that the government withheld Sowells'
exculpatory statements, the claim was denied because
Sowells' testimony at the separate trial, which was the
basis for Fields' belief that Sowells had made helpful
statements, was not actually exculpatory. Id. at *3.
Nor was Sowells' testimony material. Id.
District Court denied Fields' application for a
certificate of appealability. Order (Mar. 7, 2006), ECF No.
429. The D.C. Circuit did not grant a certificate either.
Order, United States v. Fields, No. 06-3039 (D.C.
Cir. Sept. 11, 2007).
than thirteen years after Fields' § 2255 motion was
denied, he has moved to reopen the judgment pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4), (6). See
Def.'s Mot. Two errors, Fields now argues, infected the
integrity of the prior proceedings and deprived him of
justice. First, he should have been permitted discovery under
Rule 6(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings to
develop facts in support of his prosecutorial misconduct
claim. Def.'s Mot. at 5-6. Second, Field claims to have
been denied due process because the Court did not follow 28
U.S.C. § 2255(b)'s instruction that “[u]nless
the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively
show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court
shall cause notice thereof to be served upon the United
States attorney, grant a prompt hearing thereon,
determine the issues and make findings of fact and
conclusions of law with respect thereto.” (emphasis
added). An evidentiary hearing, Fields states, was needed to
investigate the government's failure to produce
exculpatory materials. Id. at 7.
government responded two weeks ago, see
Gov't's Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Reopen J.
(“Gov't's Opp'n”), ECF No. 468,
making Fields' motion now ripe.
Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4) permits a court to relieve a
party from the burden of a prior judgment if the
“judgment is void, ” while Rule 60(b)(6) allows a
court to grant relief from a prior judgment for any justified
reasoned not otherwise articulated in the rule. Rule 60(b),
as any other rule of civil procedure, applies in habeas
proceedings “only to the extent that [it is] not
inconsistent with applicable federal statutory provisions and
rules.” Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 529
(2005) (internal citations omitted). Relevant here, those
statutory provisions dictate that a district court may not
consider any second or successive petition for relief under
28 U.S.C. § 2255 without prior authorization from a
court of appeals. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h);
see also 28 U.S.C. § 2244. Given that a Rule
60(b) motion necessarily follows the prior adjudication of a
§ 2255 motion, Rule 60(b) has a limited role in the
context of § 2255 proceedings. A Rule 60(b) motion may
be used to “attack, not the substance of the federal
court's resolution of a claim on the merits, but some
defect in the integrity of the federal habeas
proceedings.” Crosby, 545 U.S. at 532; see
also United States v. Arrington, 763 F.3d 17, 22 (D.C.
Cir. 2014) (applying Crosby to § 2255 motions).
examples of proper Rule 60(b) arguments in this context
include that a witness committed fraud on the court or that
the court, in denying the § 2255 motion, misapplied a
rule that precluded a merits determination, such as
“failure to exhaust, procedural default, or
statute-of-limitations bar.” Crosby, 545 U.S.
at 532 n.4 & 5; see also United States v. Rice,
No. 03-cr-441 (RBW), 2019 WL 1778509, at *2 n.2 (D.D.C. Apr.
22, 2019) (recognizing that a Rule 60(b) motion attacking
application of a statute of limitations is proper).
Conversely, a Rule 60(b) motion that attacks the court's
prior resolution of a § 2255 claim on the merits is
“similar enough” to a habeas motion that the
district court, under 28 U.S.C. § 2244 and 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255(h), may not consider the motion without prior
authorization from the court of appeals. Crosby, 545
U.S. at 531-32; Arrington, 763 F.3d at 23-24.
as Fields' pending motion asserts the improper denial of
an evidentiary hearing, he contends that “[t]here is no
question that a Rule 60(b) motion that alleges that a
district court failed to grant an evidentiary hearing in a
§ 2255 motion is a true 60(b) motion. . . . This is so,
because the petitioner is not challenging the merits of the
court's original decision, rather the petitioner is
challenging the court's procedure.” Def.'s Mot.
at 7. The government counters that “[a] Rule 60(b)
motion that challenges a district court's decision not to
hold an evidentiary hearing is a successive habeas petition
because it challenges the habeas court's previous ruling
on the merits of that claim.” Gov't's Opp'n
at 30-31. Each position has support from at least one circuit
court. Compare United States v. Vialva, 904 F.3d
356, 362 (5th Cir. 2018) (calling motion to revisit denial of
an evidentiary hearing a “clearly merits-based
attack”), United States v. Washington, 653
F.3d 1057, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (finding that denial of
evidentiary hearing did not “constitute an allegation
of a defect in the integrity of the proceedings” but
rather was merely a request “for a second chance to
have the merits determined favorably”), and In re
Lindsey, 582 F.3d 1173, 1175-76 (10th Cir. 2009)
(concluding that decision not to hold evidentiary hearing
reflected consideration of the merits of a habeas petition),
with Rowe v. Director, Dep't of Corrections, 111
Fed.Appx. 150, 151 (4th Cir. 2004) (holding that motion
alleging that “district court erred by failing to
conduct an evidentiary hearing before denying Rowe's
§ 2254 petition . . . constituted a true Rule 60(b)
motion” because it “asserted a defect in the
collateral review process itself”).
circuit courts to address this issue, only the Tenth Circuit
has explained the basis of its ruling. That court concluded
that when the district court's denial of an evidentiary
hearing is the result of a merits determination, as
is true when a district court judge rules that a
“§ 2255 motion should be denied without an
evidentiary hearing because the record conclusively shows
that defendant is not entitled to relief on his claims,
” then “there could be no error in denying an
evidentiary hearing unless the district court made an
incorrect merits determination.” In re
Lindsey, 582 F.3d at 1175-76. The Tenth Circuit limited
the scope of its decision, stating that its ruling did not
mean that all “Rule 60(b) motion[s] claiming an
erroneous denial of an evidentiary hearing in a § 2255
or § 2254 proceeding” are inherently “a
disguised attack on the merits.” Id. at 1176
Tenth Circuit's analysis is sound. Both 28 U.S.C. §
2255(b) and Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255
Proceedings permit a judge to dismiss a § 2255 motion
without holding an evidentiary hearing if the record is clear
that the motion is meritless. United States v.
Morrison, 98 F.3d 619, 625 (D.C. Cir. 1996). When
forgoing an evidentiary hearing reflects a determination of
the § 2255 motion's merit, any Rule 60(b) motion
claiming the improper denial of an ...